Speechcraft and storytelling are a communication superduo every leader must know © Shutterstock

Communication skills every leader of the digital age must know
To survive and thrive in the digital age, today’s leaders need to rapidly up-skill in communication
1 Feb 2024

Since the dawn of the digital age, the options for how to communicate with others and share messages, news and information, have grown exponentially. From a legion of social media outlets, to a wide selection of different online meeting rooms, to ever-evolving digital technology such as virtual reality and holograms, the options for communication available today are copious and astounding.

Their impact has been to connect humanity on a scale never seen before. However, there are always two sides of a coin. The ancient Greeks said this best in stating that with “every gift there is a curse” and with “every curse there is a gift”.

The “gift” is clear, but the “curse” is that now more than ever, leaders are being asked to communicate with their peers, teams and stakeholders on an accelerated and extensive level, requiring more time, effort and skill than ever before.

Because of this, the days of passively standing behind a lectern and droning on while presenting, or slouching down in a chair and mumbling while speaking in meetings are over. The bar has been raised to new heights, and leaders are now being called to elevate how they communicate with their audiences. The time has come for them to step into the best versions of themselves as communicators as there is nowhere left to hide.

To survive in the jungle of communication outlets, today’s leaders need to know a bevy of skills. These include everything from the basics of how to create compelling content and how to deliver it, to advanced skills about how to rehearse, how to speak on camera and how to authentically connect with their audiences both in live performances and online.

For many leaders, it can feel overwhelming to figure out what skills they need to learn and how to begin. That’s why, in order to fast-track and learn the skills which are urgently needed, I recommend getting started with the two giants of effective communication: speechcraft and storytelling.

Speechcraft is the foundation of all speaking. It’s about what is said and how it is spoken. Put simply, it’s about content and delivery, and like the foundation of a house, it is the supporting frame on top of which everything else is built.

Learning speechcraft is about getting good at creating content that serves the needs and interests of the listeners. At its core is understanding that, ‘it’s not about you, it’s about your audience.’ 

Therefore, the more examples, anecdotes and details that are shared which are relevant and interesting to the audience, the better. Speechcraft is also about how content is spoken. Here, the focus is on developing PRESENCE – personal energy that conveys openness and accessibility; VOICE – that matches the feeling and the spirit of the content; and BODY – that moves congruently with what is being said and reveals meaning non-verbally.

Storytelling is the second giant of effective communication. It is the enchanted horse that speechcraft rides on into the hearts and minds of the audience. It is the vessel through which authentic communication happens and when done properly, allows listeners to understand the content on a visceral level. The skill is to re-learn how to tell stories. This craft is something that is native to everyone, it’s in our human DNA, but unfortunately, by the time many adults join the workforce, the skill of storytelling has often evolved into ‘job-speak.’ This more terse and intellectualized version of storytelling shares facts, figures and knowledge, which paint the ‘frame’ of the content. Often the ‘picture’ is missing because the details, emotional aspects and the sensory nuances which true storytelling entails, are left out. Therefore, the work for leaders is to get good at telling stories again with these important aspects included.

When performed together, speechcraft and storytelling are the magic beans that lead to the kingdom in the clouds. The powerful impact of their use can be transferred into any communication medium, from social media platforms to live conferences. They are a communication superduo which every leader must know.

In today’s plugged-in world, we need more leaders who are skilled in speechcraft and storytelling so that they can speak with impact, authenticity and human connection to any audience at any time. My invitation is for leaders to begin the work of up-skilling in these essential communication skills and the many other advanced skills of leadership communication so that every speaking performance is heightened and exemplary.

Whether it’s a staff update delivered online, a video message to the organization, or a conference speech in front of a thousand people, when leaders show up as the best versions of themselves through effective communication, their message resonates, and when their message resonates, they help to make the world a better place, one speech at a time. 

Dr Laura Penn

* Dr. Laura Penn is the Founder of The Leadership Speaking School. She is a master teacher in the speaking arts and an international authority on business communication.
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